Conduct Your Own Orchestra Night

Last Thursday, I participated in Outsound Presents Conduct Your Own Orchestra Night at the Luggage Store Gallery. During the course of the evening, several conductors took turns conducting an “orchestra” of improvising musicians for ten minutes. Each conductor took a very different approach, using a variety of gestures, instructions and symbols to guide the performers.

[Bob Marsh conducts the orchestra.]

As with other recent guided-improvisation pieces, I used a graphical score for my conducting. The performers were each given a set of 16 graphical symbols. During the course of the performance, I held up large cards each containing one of the symbols, directed either at individuals, groups or the ensemble as a whole.

You can see some of the symbols below:

[Click to enlarge.]

This is the second page of the 16 available symbols, generally these were the more complex. Viewers might notice that symbol 12 is a cat. Like other symbols, I expected to be interpreted relatively freely – but by coincidence percussionist Ann O’Rourke had a cat-shaped metal CD rack as an instrument, so it became a very obvious cue for her to play the “cat.”

Ann O’Rourke’s piece was based entirely on pairings of words, such as “fearful/choppy” and “fearful/flowing” or “hesitant/slow” and “confident/fast”. The orchestra was divided in half, with one side receiving one pairing and the other side receiving the other pairing.

Brandan Landis’ conducting was more physical/body-oriented. He did not use any visual cues (textual or graphical), but instead used dramatic body movements to guide the orchestra. Some of these were rather intense and the piece ended with his collapsing on the floor.

Mark Briggs used short rhythmic patterns and cues to individual performers to build up a complex rhythmic texture. I was given a very simple repeated pattern to perform, which allowed me to remain immersed in the overall rhythm of the piece.

Tom Bickley led the orchestra in a very sparse and beautiful piece with individual sounds from cued performance set against silence. It was the sparse texture that made this among my favorite pieces of the evening, musically speaking.

Bob Marsh used his own instructional cards and gestures to conduct the orchestra, and contributed his own vocal performance on top.

Other conductors included CJ Borosque and Matt Davignon, who used a combination of instructional cards, including one that instructed a performer to make a loud sound when Matt pointed a finger gun and shot him/her.

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